NIGERIA: Bayelsa, Still reeling in the pain of flooding

Like the debris after an inferno, the floods that ravaged Bayelsa State for over one month last year left their devastating marks in many communities. The pains and wounds of the disaster that displaced many families are still fresh.

Though people are heaving a sigh of relief as the floodwater, which almost turned the state into a river has dried up, victims are left with collapsed buildings, damaged property, washed-out roads and devastated farmlands.

It is easy for a first time visitor to know that a disaster struck in the state. Vegetations which bowed to the tidal wave of the floods have yet to recover; the marks made on walls indicating the level of the floodwater have remained indelible and the soil which was pulverised in some areas tells the story.

Indeed, it is not easy for victims of the flood to adapt to the post-flood era. For instance, the people of Igbogene, a suburb of Yenagoa Local Government Area are finding life very difficult.

Individually and collectively, they grieve over their losses. Perhaps, their major collective loss was a locally made bridge which was destroyed by the floods. The long bridge was made of rafters and wood by the settlers in the community and used by pedestrians to access other parts of the capital city. But now, it has been washed away by the floods.

“This bridge caused us a fortune. We contributed over N700,000 to construct it,” Mr. Friday Emokpo, the Team B Chief Security Officer of the community said. He narrated their efforts in fortifying the bridge during the disaster.

“When the water level rose, we discovered that the bridge was low and could be swallowed by the water. We contributed money and began to raise the level of the bridge. We used all our resources to secure the bridge but unfortunately, it could not resist the current of the water,” he said.

Emokpo lamented the difficulties which the destruction of the bridge now posed to the communities. He said it had forced the people to depend on ferries while crossing the river that separates the community from the Yenagoa-Mbiama Road.

“We now pay for canoes to take us across the water. Our fear is that our school children also use canoes. We don’t want to imagine what will happen if, one day, a canoe carrying school children capsizes,” he said.

Apart from the bridge, the community suffers other losses. Emokpo appealed to the government to carry out massive fumigation of the communities ravaged by the floods to check rodents and mosquitoes.

“I lost my farm and everything. But we are mostly affected by the loss of our bridge. We contributed over N700,000 to construct the bridge. But floods washed it away. We are now using canoes to cross the river.

“The environment is not healthy any more. Mosquitoes have increased in number. That is why we are begging the government to fumigate the environment and help us rebuild our bridge,” he said.

A retired soldier, Charles Okolo, said his poultry farm, the source of his livelihood, was destroyed by the floods.

Charles said, “After resigning from the army, I was paid my gratuity which I used to set up a poultry farm. I invested money to purchase about 700,000 birds. I was producing many crates of eggs per day. But I lost all of them.

“My birds are all gone. Birds are susceptible to the effects of humidity and when there is water, the humidity is high. So, the mortality rate was high and I was left with about 16 birds which later died.

“The government cannot satisfy everybody. But we hope that they will locate people who were actually affected by the flood and support them.”

The case of another victim, Mr. Fredrick Owouwari, is pathetic. As the flood raged, he abandoned his store and relocated to an uncompleted building with his nine children. However, when he came back after the floods, everything in his store had been damaged.

“Everything is damaged now. The generator, the refrigerator and all my goods were damaged. We are afraid of diseases because the whole area is polluted and infested by flies. We are urging the government to assist us,” he said.

The people’s experience is virtually the same across the eight local governments affected by the flood. Communities in Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Sagbama (including the Otuoke community, President Goodluck Jonathan’s hometown) all in Ogbia Local Government Area share the same experience.

In fact, the Edepie-Otuasiga-Imiringi Road has remained impassible after the flood. The ferocious floods also dealt a deadly blow on the bridge at Imiringi in Ogbia LGA. The bridge currently begs for urgent attention.

Based on these developments, a non-governmental organisation based in the United Kingdom, HOK International, has warned Nigeria against playing politics with the management of post-flood disaster.

The founder of the organisation, Mrs. Helen Okafor, who gave the warning while donating relief materials to victims of the flood in Bayelsa State recently, asked the federal and state governments to show genuine efforts in resettling the victims and tackling other challenges caused by the floods.

Okafor said relief materials received from philanthropic organisations and individuals by the government should not be distributed as gifts to political office holders and other non-victims of the floods.

She added that money raised by various committees for the flood victims should not be banked or used for electoral purposes.

She said, “The money should be used to provide succour for the flood victims and to rebuild infrastructure damaged by the floods.”

She advised the government to give attention to rebuilding damaged educational infrastructure and providing affordable accommodation for victims who lost their homes to the floods.

She said, “What actually made us begin to go to the grass roots was our Tsunami intervention experience. We had a lot of Africans who were affected by the Tsunami and we made a lot of donations. But the donations didn’t get to the people. Some persons diverted the money to buy expensive cars. So, we decided that when crisis occurs and we intervene, we will go to the grass roots.”

In response, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Seriake Dickson, vowed to tackle the post-flood disaster challenges. The governor promised that he would not allow relief materials donated by philanthropic organisations and individuals to be diverted.

Shortly after the floods, Dickson inaugurated a Post-Flood Management Committee and appointed the former National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Azazi (retd) as the chairman.

He expressed confidence that the committee comprising tested and trusted professionals, including religious heads, would tackle the problems created by floods in the state. He said the committee would undertake measures to rebuild infrastructures damaged by the floods.

The governor said serious attention would be paid to victims of the flood disaster.

At the inauguration, Dickson said, “The committee will, among other things, solicit support, receive and manage funds and other items from public spirited individuals, corporate bodies, and donor agencies locally and internationally.”

He promised to rebuild educational and health facilities destroyed by the flood. The governor wasted no time in presenting a cheque of N500m he received from the Chairman of Globacom, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr, to the committee.

Adenuga had issued the cheque to Bayelsa State Government to support its efforts in rebuilding infrastructure.

He asked members of the committee to rehabilitate the flood victims and rebuild damaged infrastructure by mobilising all available resources. He implored the committee to seek support from within and outside the state, insisting that the destruction created in the state by the floods was monumental.

“Ninety per cent of the state, with its critical infrastructures such as roads and bridges, were completely ravaged,” Dickson said, while appealing to individuals and organisations for support with the promise that government would utilise the resources judiciously.

But the activities of the committee and terms of reference it received from Dickson have been seriously hindered by the tragic death of Azazi who was involved in the helicopter crash that occurred at Okoroba in Nembe Local Government Area of the state last December.

As the committee searches for a replacement for the late Azazi, the displaced persons are hoping that the government will intervene to ameliorate their suffering without further delay.

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